Sandra Lee’s quilts glow. Soft and gleaming colors vibrate in harmony, creatively pieced to form pattern and composition — some lively and buoyant, others quietly peaceful. In them, Sandra finds space for self reflection and personal expression. The wearable art pieces she makes echo this same sensibility. Paired with her deep drive and sharp focus, her attention to craft and beauty is evident in every one.
Sandra’s sewing journey began in her 7th grade home economics class. She remembers the class clearly — the broiled tomatoes and the hot cocoa they learned to make, but most of all: the sewing. Sandra remembers falling in love with fabric instantly, falling in love with color. She would sit at her sewing machine, focused, closely following every instruction given by the teacher. Around the same time, she was given a quilting lesson as a gift from her mother’s friend. She learned sewing and quilting simultaneously, the two melding in her practice. The principles and techniques of each deeply inform the other. They are intrinsically entwined.
Sandra’s textile studies and endeavors continued to flourish, her passion never waning. In both elementary and high school, Sandra was one of five Black students. “I look back now,” she says, “and I think sewing gave me comfort. It was my safe haven. It filled my tank.” She consistently returned to her sewing practice, recreating space for solace, creativity, and joy. Sandra continued her sewing lessons through high school, taking on commissions and exploring personal projects along the way, before going on to study textiles in college — everything from fiber production to pattern design to marketing. She has always made time and space to teach in her community, enthusiastically sharing her sharply honed skills with as many others as she can.
Denim, above all, is Sandra’s favorite material to work with. The deep blues calm, captivate, and inspire. About 15 years ago, she felt a strong call to utilize her resources and create art with materials readily available. She began with denim, using her own garments and others purchased from thrift stores. She gathers her fabric, sorting the pieces by hue, shade, weight. Cutting into the cloth, she creates shapes. Tiled compositions come together. The cloth is imbued with new meaning. Some are planned thoroughly, while others are intuitively formed. She skillfully sews each piece together, often hand quilting their finish.
Through the process, she holds in mind the stories of each piece of cloth — who they once belonged to, where they have traveled. Sun-faded cloth, worn pockets, and all the varied hues are signs of a well-loved garment. She says, “this quilt represents many different backgrounds, from many people. It makes you think: what were the lives of these people? What happened? What would this quilt mean to them if they went up to see it?”
Most recently, she has been combining words with her textile work, adding stitched and appliquéd phrases that gesture across the cloth and become a focus of the piece. They are phrases she hears that resonate, impact, and stick with her. She utilizes her creativity as a vehicle and a means to speak her truth – block letters grace the quilt tops, her hand and her voice resound.
Spring 2024, Sandra will be giving a virtual artist talk with TATTER, Past – Present: Indigo, Denim, and the History of Resistance.
Hand sewing with my grandmother started it all. I found the process of transforming fabric into art as magical. Sewing was the foundation that led me to quilt. Quilting which started as a hobby has now turned my passion into an artistic reality.
I find my inspiration in shades of blue with a focus on blue jeans. I am known for using repurposed denim and other fabrics to create my quilting and wearable art projects. My staples for quilting are thread and cloth, however, I often employ recycled denim, yarns, dyed fabrics, and stamps to transform the ordinary into the extraordinary. I also love to hand stitch using the traditional Japanese Sashiko and Boro embroidery styles and incorporating them as a decorative feature into my designs.